Thrown into a post-apocalyptic wasteland with little hope in sight, a father and son desperate for redemption make their way to the coast at Cormac McCarthy’s The street. Along the way, however, they must battle the elements, hunger, and the remnants of humanity driven insane by the collapse of society following an unknown cataclysm. Here’s what you should know about this brutal masterpiece from the book by Mental Floss The curious reader.
It should come as no surprise that a book with such a strong father-son theme as The street originated while McCarthy was on a trip with his own son in El Paso, Texas. One night as his son slept, McCarthy looked out the window of his hotel and contemplated what the city might be like 50 to 100 years from now—imagining fires burning in the distance and the city in ruins. His thoughts immediately went to his son. He began writing down these notes, although at first he wasn’t quite sure where the story was going. All he had in mind was a father, a son and the end of the world.
In conversation with The Wall Street Journal, McCarthy said he was further inspired by conversations he had with his brother Dennis about hypothetical post-apocalyptic scenarios — namely, descent into cannibalism. “We talked about if there was a small percentage of the human population left, what would they do?” he said. “Probably they would split up into small tribes and when it’s all gone there’s only one another to eat. We know that is historically true.”
McCarthy seems fixated on simplicity – in an interview about his sparse prose style he said: “I believe in periods, in capital letters, in the occasional comma, and that’s it.” This simple mindset carries over into his actual writing process. For much of his career, McCarthy chose to type his books on a used Olivetti Lettera 32 typewriter, which he picked up for $50 at a pawn shop in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the late 1950s or early ’60s. He would continue to produce titles like All pretty horses, No country for old menand The street on the machine, even as computers and laptops became staples for modern writers.
The Olivetti remained McCarthy’s favorite until 2009, when it wore out beyond repair and was auctioned off. In the letter of authentication, McCarthy emphasized that he typed every book “including three that have not yet been published” and that “it was never cleaned except to blow the dust out with a gas station air hose.”
In December 2009, the typewriter fetched $254,500 at auction, with the proceeds reportedly going to the Santa Fe Institute, a nonprofit, interdisciplinary scientific research organization The New York Times. McCarthy’s replacement was another Olivetti that a friend bought for him for $11.
Many of McCarthy’s books have found critical and commercial success—All pretty horses sold more than 100,000 copies the year after its release and took home the National Book Award and adaptation of No country for old men won the Oscar for best picture. but The street Perhaps his greatest honor was beating him out with the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction Thereafter by Alice McDermott and The Echo Maker by Richard Powers. In true McCarthy fashion, the author did not personally attend the ceremony; Alfred A. Knopf Editor-in-Chief Sonny Mehta accepted the Pulitzer in his place.
McCarthy’s dislike of the public has contributed to his mystique, but has also made it almost impossible to get personal insight into his works. But in June 2007, McCarthy finally sat across from Oprah Winfrey to promote his first television interview The street after she chose it for her book club.
During the interview, McCarthy opened up to Winfrey on everything from the inspiration behind the novel to thoughts on his own writing process. Surprisingly, McCarthy admitted his stories aren’t very structured while he’s working on it. “You can’t plan things,” McCarthy told Winfrey. “You just have to trust it, wherever it’s coming from.”
The extra press that brought Oprah to the book worked: The paperback version of Oprah The street, which promotes her place in her book club, sold 1.4 million copies by 2011 alone. That’s compared to the pre-Oprah numbers, which were under 200,000. Not even the news that McCarthy won the Pulitzer Prize could boost sales The street like Oprah could.
One of the most haunting aspects of The street is that readers are simply thrown into a nightmarish vision of a world in chaos with no explanation. The exact nature of the end of the world is never revealed – McCarthy instead focuses on the horrifying events as the unnamed father and son make their way through barren forests and clash with scattered camps of troubled survivors. So what happened? Was this a natural disaster that wiped out humanity, or did something man-made eventually inflict us?
“A lot of people ask me,” McCarthy said The Wall Street Journal. “I don’t have an opinion.” However, he echoed other people’s opinions and said some of his friends in the scientific community, namely geologists, had committed to a meteor as the trigger. However, McCarthy emphasized that it doesn’t really matter – what matters is what you do next.
The success of The street immediately caught Hollywood’s attention, and a film adaptation was released in theaters in 2009, starring Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the father and son with no names. To properly capture the post-apocalyptic world, director John Hillcoat decided to shoot in a few locations beset by a real-life disaster: Production headed to New Orleans, where the cleanup after Hurricane Katrina was still ongoing while filming took place in 2008 instead of.
Footage of Mortensen and Smit-McPhee in an abandoned movie theater was filmed at New Orleans’ Grand Theater, which was still destroyed by the storm at the time. And for a scene featuring two devastated boats running aground on the freeway, Hillcoat got creative and used existing IMAX documentary footage of Katrina’s aftermath to bring a more authentic sense of devastation to the film’s world.
“A crew was filming a family film about the bayou when [Katrina] hit,” Hillcoat said The Los Angeles Times. “Two days later they went out and shot 70mm IMAX footage of these two boats sitting on the freeway. We recorded straight from the source.” When speaking to The Washington PostHillcoat elaborated on the process, saying, “We changed the sky and grass to fit our world and it became non-specific, but it feels familiar.”
During his career, McCarthy typically published only one or two books a decade, but after that The street Hitting shelves in 2006, that production ground to a halt. He wrote the screenplay for Ridley Scott’s 2013 film The Counselor, but no new books were published in the 2010s.
Then, in March 2022, it was announced that McCarthy would not only be releasing a new book — he had two finished. The passenger will first be released on October 25, 2022 and Stella Maris follows shortly thereafter on November 22nd. The passenger revolves around a character named Bobby Western, while Stella Maris focuses on his sister Alicia, who marks the first time a female character has starred in one of McCarthy’s books.